Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, March 8, 2012 | 10:40 p.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer, Taylor Bern and Case Keefer look at UNLV's eight-point victory over Wyoming in the first round of the conference tournament. They also discuss whether UNLV is capable of living up to their status as a favorite in tomorrow's game against New Mexico.
- The Sun's Mountain West Conference tournament section
- BOX SCORE: UNLV 56, Wyoming 48
- Demetrius Walker pushes New Mexico to a 79-64 victory over Air Force
- Colorado State puts itself firmly in the NCAA bubble
- San Diego State survives scare from Boise State, advances on Franklin’s buzzer-beater
- LIVE BLOG: UNLV, other top seeds all advance in Mountain West Conference quarterfinals
- Sports books peg UNLV as tournament favorite, brace for ‘start of the madness’
- Despite quarterfinal loss, Lady Rebels heading in right direction with 22-win season
- As UNLV enters postseason play against Wyoming, defense becomes even more important
- Mountain West tournament title won’t prove anything, but could improve UNLV’s seeding
- Boxing legend Mike Tyson gives an emotional speech at UNLV basketball practice
- Mike Moser makes first team, four Rebels honored on All-Mountain West teams
- UNLV falls three spots to No. 20 in both polls
- The Mountain West tournament features a first-round rematch for UNLV and Wyoming
- 2011-12 UNLV Men's Basketball Schedule
- All UNLV Men's Basketball Coverage
Here is a bit of advice for opposing coaches game-planning against the UNLV basketball team: The strategy of taking the air out of the ball offensively in an attempt to slow the Rebels’ fast-break offense isn’t much of a strategy at all.
Wyoming saw that firsthand Thursday night in the Mountain West Conference quarterfinals, suffering through the same result as USC and Cal-Poly earlier in the season when they attempted to slow down the Rebels. UNLV needed a few possessions to adjust, but eventually prevailed in a 56-48 victory.
As one fan sitting behind me constantly kept yelling: “Dribble. Dribble. Dribble some more. Come on, this isn’t basketball.” That’s a valid point — regardless of the number of beers in his system, which might have been higher than the number of Wyoming field goals in the first half.
The Cowboys made just three field goals, committed seven turnovers and had no assists in trailing 28-11 at halftime. That’s right, 11 points.
Some of the struggles were the result of a stingy UNLV defense, but a seven-minute field goal drought is partially because of the lack of scoring opportunities. You have to shoot to score, right? Then, when Wyoming rallied to cut a 22-point deficit to seven points in the second half, the shot clock all of a sudden wasn’t an issue. They were able to find success running a normal-paced offense and getting stops at the defensive end.
UNLV wasn’t much better offensively early in shooting just 18 percent in the opening eight minutes — an ugly, ugly start to the game with UNLV leading 5-4 at the second media timeout.
Then, Mike Moser took over.
Moser outscored Wyoming by himself in the first half, posting 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting and keying UNLV on a 17-4 run in the final 10 minutes of the half. It was vintage Moser — the type of performances he had early in the season when he was mentioned as a candidate to leave school early for the NBA Draft.
Despite Wyoming’s efforts to slow the pace, the Cowboys couldn’t hold UNLV down for long. Part of the reason why is the 6-foot-8 Moser is nearly impossible to guard with his ability to get out into transition after grabbing a rebound. On one play in the first half, he went the length of the court for an easy two points.
UNLV will surely face another team before the postseason ends that would prefer to slow the pace of the game. That, despite Wyoming’s failure to execute, is one way to attack the Rebels’ superior transition attack. However, they might also want to find ways to slow down Moser — folks, he is a special talent, and when he is on, UNLV is pretty tough to beat.
Here are some more observations from the game.
Rebels struggle closing games: UNLV led by 22 points with 18:47 remaining before seeing their lead cut to seven points with five minutes left. Sound familiar? The struggles closing games has been one of the Rebels’ biggest troubles this year — one that has cost them games on multiple occasions. They pride themselves in playing at a fast pace, but need to find a healthy balance between taking a shot and running valuable time off the clock when nursing a lead. Oftentimes, a shot is heaved up early in the shot clock, when it would be more beneficial to run a little time and get a better look at the basket. They don’t need to revert to Dean Smith’s "Four Corners" technique of stalling time, but do need to get better looks late in the game. To the Rebels' credit, they managed the clock almost perfectly in the final three minutes of the game in fighting off a late charge from Wyoming. Often times, a UNLV player stopped while driving to the basket in favor of bringing the ball to the top of the key to stall time. That's progress.
The Rebels need Chace Stanback at his best: Stanback, the senior forward who is second on the team in scoring at 13 points per game, finally recorded a field goal against Wyoming. He actually needed about 75 seconds before draining his first attempt, a 3-pointer from the corner. Stanback was scoreless last Saturday when UNLV beat Wyoming in the regular season finale and went 0-for-2 from the field earlier in the season at Wyoming. He’s has had games where he’s flat-out the best player on the court and deadly from the outside — remember that 3-point shooting streak in late December when he made 21-of-29 attempts over a four-game stretch? He’s also had games where he gets lost in the shuffle, which you could argue is partially the result of a bad knee. For the Rebels to be a force in March, they need a healthy and productive Stanback to compliment Moser and provide another scoring option. Stanback’s eight points 25 minutes Thursday were good enough to beat Wyoming, but he’ll need to make a bigger impact Friday in the semifinal against New Mexico.
Hey Rebel fans: Get lost?: I can’t blame locals who didn’t show up for tonight’s game — it was a pretty sad showing with several empty seats. But the current Las Vegas economy doesn’t exactly scream having extra money for high-priced tickets for a quarterfinal game against Wyoming. Hopefully, the local turnout will be improve Friday against New Mexico, whose fan base was clearly the strongest and loudest Thursday of the league’s eight teams. The perception is UNLV has this awesome advantage because the tournament is on its home court. That’s far from the truth. The student section is what helped UNLV post a perfect 16-0 record at home this year. And with the students not receiving free tickets for the tournament, the advantage isn’t all too overwhelming. I’m sure San Diego State’s Steve Fisher or New Mexico's Steve Alford would argue differently, but the Mack definitely wasn’t as pro-UNLV as you would expect.